It may be the media buzzword, but is obesity really a threat to equine health?
Most definitely, says Your Horse vet Gil Riley, of Pool House Veterinary Group in Staffordshire. He believes that monitoring your horse’s weight this spring is a must.
“Fat is far from being an inert, cuddly substance,” warns Gil. “It’s a reservoir of toxic inflammatory mediators, released into the horse’s body to wreak havoc on his metabolism. It can cause laminitis, and peripheral and classic Cushing’s disease.
“Being overweight also puts joints, ligaments, tendons, bones and feet under greater strain, increasing the risk of a whole host of orthopaedic problems.”
Gil recommends investing in a weigh tape. “Measure your horse at the same
time, once a week, ideally first thing in morning before feeding,” he says.
“Use an identifiable reference point on his body each time, such as behind the withers or over a particular letter of a freeze brand.
If your horse is gaining weight, adjust your turnout protocol and/or the amount fed in the stable.”
Stephanie Wood, of Caballus Nutritional Consultants, recommends assessing your horse’s bodyweight and condition score so you can decide whether to work towards improving, maintaining or reducing his condition.
You can then assess his ability to perform the work you’re planning, and what dietary changes are needed to enable him to meet these demands.
Stephanie says: “The majority of owners will want to increase the time their horses spend at grass in spring and summer, so grass needs to be the basis of the ration.
"Although this sounds obvious, many owners restrict their horses’ grazing access but continue to feed forages, concentrates and supplements, making more work for themselves, increasing costs, and preventing the horse from behaving naturally.
“After grass, the next food type to include in your horse’s diet is forage – but only if needed.”
Stephanie adds: “Horses managed at grass generally regulate their intake more effectively than horses stabled, especially when allowed to adapt to seasonal variation in pasture availability.
"Regardless of which system is used, horses will graze more at dawn and dusk, giving owners the chance to control their horses’grazing at these times.”